All words presented in this blog are purely opinion, not fact - unless specifically stated otherwise in the post.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Game On

First look at the Games Designer murder mystery, baring in mind that this project is hugely work in progress and the main characters first name hasn't even been decided yet, here are the first couple of chapters of Game On, by me;

Chapter 1

“That was the trailer for the newly released ‘Blood Ties’ detective game developed by Black Serenity games and published by Electronic Entertainment. I’m Kathy Peclin and we’re here with Nicki Game, Lead designer and spokeswoman for Black Serenity’s latest release.” The games journalist told the audience, holding the big foam mic a little closer to her lips than she probably needed to. Nicki imagined that the sound guys had a hell of a time fixing it so that the journalists voices weren’t distorted if they all held the mics like that.
She didn’t say anything though, she just smiled, waiting to be directed a question. Nicki was used to interviews at this point. Not just about the games she’d been working on, but from the twitter controversy over the last few years. Nicki had been one of the primary focuses of what people called ‘Gamergate’. She’d been interviewed by a lot of different people, from the games media, to big news companies, even Jonah Olivar on his satirical news comedy show back when it all happened. She’d never been interviewed by Kathy Peclin before though so she knew exactly how it would progress. They’d talk about the game a little and then shey’d ask about gamergate. Nicki would tell her a little about her experience, then they’d run out of time before she could say anything meaningful.
Games journalists all wanted to seem like they cared about women being verbally abused and physically threatened because they worked in the games industry, but they also didn’t want to lose the custom of the men who did the abusing. It was hypocrisy, but they were only doing their jobs. it wasn’t their fault that they were inept journalism majors who got stuck in the most marketing oriented end of the media, so she didn’t complain at them.
Of course before all of that, they would start with pointing out her name to her, as if she wasn’t aware of it.
Nicki’s eye moved from the journalist to one of the video feeds behind the camera and found that particular feed focussed on her. She was a skinny thing no more than five-foot-five with a lean muscular body, though you couldn’t see it through her clothes. Her clothes also covered a couple of tattoos as well. One on the front of her upper right leg, three black diamonds spaced out in the shape of a larger diamond with the fourth diamond missing from the left of the formation - just like on the DC Villain ‘Harley Quinn’s costume. The other was of six pixel heart outlines just below her right collarbone. Heart counters from ‘the legend of zelda’. One for each of the game titles she’d worked on as a designer.
She wore blue skinny jeans and black ankle boots with a silver buckle and two inch heels. A white shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbow and the top two buttons undone, revealing a little of her modest cleavage, but not enough to be crude. She also wore a light grey waistcoat, buttoned once in the very centre and left otherwise undone. Hanging around her neck was an EE and Black Serenity lanyard with her E3 entrance badge and credentials hanging in the middle of her chest.
Her long hair was mostly brown today with purple highlights running through it. Most of it ran down her back, but some flowed over her shoulders, and onto her chest. She was quite pretty with porcelain pale skin, almond shaped blue eyes, a cute slightly upturned nose, high cheekbones and light, thin eyebrows. Very pretty, maybe, but she’d never be a model or anything. Maybe one of the ones from that Suicidegirls company. She wore heavy eye makeup but very little of everything else.
She had a small silver piercing through her eyebrow, two silver studs piercing each of her earlobes, and a very small stud with an aquamarine gem in it through the right side of her nose. She’d considered getting plugs in her earlobes, she liked the way they looked on others and thought that they might look good on her. She also knew, however, that having things like her piercings in for long periods of time irritated her so she’d often take them out, and she wouldn’t like the look of herself with empty stretched lobes.
For the most part she liked the way she looked. The ‘emo’ or ‘alternative’ look were styles that suited her and made her feel comfortable, even if she didn’t fully embody the stereotypes that went with them.
For a brief moment before the interviewer turned to her she wondered what colour she should dye her hair next, she could already see the blonde roots coming through, but then she was back with the cameras and bright lights, preparing to answer questions.
“So! Nicola Game?” Kathy said, turning to look over at Nicki, the microphone moving with her chin almost as if it were attached. “That name is a little on the nose, isn’t it?” She smiled, questioningly.
Nicki stifled a sigh and responded the same exact way that she had responded every other time. “I know, but it was a gift from my dad.” She said with her south london english accent contrasting heavily with Kathy’s new york inflections. “My mother says that I was born for this job, when she’s not complaining that I’m not married or in a more lucrative career of course.”
“Of course.” Kathy laughed back, before then continuing with the interview. “So Blood Ties is out now, and honestly,” she added, leaning in almost conspiratorially, “I’ve got to say that it is fantastic. I loved it! It’s got a ninety-five on metacritic, and from what I understand it’s broken the previous record for most first day sales ever and it’s not even been released worldwide yet.” She said it with a note of a question in her voice, but didn’t give Nicki time to respond before adding; “Not to mention that it’s had rave reviews even from the most unlikely sources, including but not limited to King of thriller, Mister Stephan Queen."
“Yes,” Nicki responded, and for a very brief moment she considered leaving it at that. “We’re doing great, sales are through the roof, Blood Ties has been really well received from the majority of our audience, and the games media. We’re all really excited and pleased, and looking forward to our next project. Not to mention the final releases of Blood Ties in England on friday and then the rest of the EU the following monday.”
“Next project? Kathy asked, latching onto the little bit of bait Nicki had dropped out for her. It was something that Black Serenity’s community manager, Rich Heart - who happened to be standing behind the cameras with the producer - had asked her to do, mention a future project but don’t speak about it.
Nicki liked Rich, they were friends. They’d both started in the industry together as QA testers about eight years earlier. They’d watched out for each other and put in good words ever since.
“Can we expect more from Detective Natalie Blood?”
“I can’t talk about that, I’m sorry.” Nicki smiled, apologetically. “I can tell you that every single member of the team who worked on Blood Ties has signed on to work on our next project, so you can expect the same high standards when we release in twenty-eighteen.”
“That’s great.” Kathy decided. “It’s not often you hear that an entire development team is sticking together through multiple projects.”
“It’s not, and that’s a shame, but with the length of development cycles it only stands to reason that people would leave and new people would come in.” Nicki explained, smiling politely.
“Very true.” Kathy said. Her eye flicked over to the producer behind the camera, who Nicki suspected had just said something to her ear piece. She nodded almost imperceptibly and turned to look at Nicki again. She picked up a branded iPad from the sofa next to her and flicked it open. “We’re getting a ton of questions through on our twitter feed from our audience. Do you mind answering some?”
“Sure, no problem.” Nicki smiled, uncrossing her legs and crossing them back the other way as she sat up a little.
“Great. Okay; first question is from @Quantum224, they ask ‘Are there any plans for DLC for Blood Ties?’”
ana smiled and nodded. “Yes, and you can already order the season pass if you wish to. Already in development and due to be released once every three months are four episodic DLCs following Natalie Blood’s father, as he worked his last case. We’re very excited for this one. The full four episodes of the DLC will be roughly the same length as the original game.”
“That’s great, when can we expect the first part?”
“December.” Nicki smiled.
Kathy grinned. “Looking forward to it!” She looked down at her iPad again. “Next question comes from @KittyKatapiller, they want to know ‘Is Natalie Blood in any way based on yourself?’ Interesting question, Nicki?”
Nicki shook her head letting out a very short breath. “The short answer? ‘no’ the long answer ‘My word, no. I am nowhere near as cool as Natalie. At best you could argue that I wish I was like Natalie, and so she’s a representation of my ideal me, but really? No. Natalie is not based on me.’ She’s a great character and I loved working on her, but she’s as amazing as she is tragic and I just can’t pull that off.”
“@Stitch364 wants to know if ‘a sequel Blood Ties game would have multiplayer?’”
Nicki considered her words for a sec, raising her brows and squinting her lips to one side before saying. “It’s possible. If we were to make another game. This time we looked at a lot of different ways to make a multiplayer but could never settle on a style. We didn’t want it to just be a shoot-em-up because, while the game does feature some shooting gameplay it is never a main part of the experience. The game is all about solving mysteries and discovering the killer and in the time we had we couldn’t find a way to create a truly balanced multiplayer system about solving mysteries. Maybe co-op gameplay in the future, btu a versus mode, not so sure. It depends how well the game sells overall and whether we get a lot of leeway in the decisionmaking in the future.”
Another note from the producer passed to Kathy over the ear piece and she put the ipad down. “Speaking of the sales, you mentioned that most of the fanbase is happy and excited about Blood Ties? the ones that aren’t, you were referring to the threats?”
Nicki sighed. This was what she’d been expecting. At least the interview would be over soon, she reasoned, shrugging. She gave Kathy a tired sigh of disappointment more than anger and told her, “well, yeah.” This time Nicki wanted to just leave it at that. Why bother going into it if they were just going to cut her off, right? However Kathy simply sat there, waiting patiently for an answer.She sighed, audibly and continued. “As you and your audience know, a few years ago there were threats made to myself as well as a handful of other women in the games industry. Journalists, bloggers, and developers alike. Sexist… not-nice-people who disagreed with the idea that women are people too and that they have the right to not be verbally abused and threatened over social media.”
“Gamergate.” Kathy responded, nodding gravely.
“Yes. Well, towards the end of the development cycle for Blood Ties word got out that at the beginning of development Detective Natalie Blood was Detective Nathaniel Blood.” Nicki explained. “The people who threatened me for speaking out against them threatening people decided that I was the sole drive behind this move, and that I was forcing feminism onto people. As with all people whose I.Q. doesn’t hit double digits, they resorted to threats and intimidation. I’m guessing that they didn’t get the game when it came out, but we still got record sales so it can’t have been that bad a move.”
Another note passed between the producer and Kathy. “So you weren’t the reason behind Nathan Bloods sex change?” She asked, raising her eyebrows as if surprised.
Nicki’s own brow furrowed as she looked across at the producer behind the camera. “You’re right, that is the most important point to make sure we get across here.” She said, annoyed by the question. She looked back to Kathy whose lips were fighting not to smile at Nicki’s sarcasm. “No, I liked Nathan just as much as Natalie. I won’t lie; it made it easier for me to relate to Natalie, but I’ve written for male characters in the past and it’s never been a problem. But no, I didn’t make Nathan a girl, ultimately that was my boss, Creative Director Matthew Warden’s call.”
Kathy sat up a little straighter, nodding as the annoyed producer passed more notes across to her. Nicki took it that he hadn’t appreciated her sarcasm. “But you did write a lot of the game?” Kathy asked.
“I’m a Lead Designer. I did a lot of work on a lot of the design, but I work with a lot of very talented people, all of whom did an incredible job, and none of this would be happening without them. Blood Ties was a group effort, and we all worked very hard.”
“That’s great.” Kathy said, looking over at the camera as the producer gave her the queue to wrap up. “Now we touched on Gamergate and your experiences with it a moment ago. I’m sure our viewers are wondering how you’re coping since?”
Nicki shrugged again, and sighed once more. “Honestly I’m fine. I don’t have a family to worry about, so the threats didn’t hit me quite as hard as it did others. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying I’m stronger than them or that they are weaker than me, I’m just saying that I made a decision and when I did it was a decision I was making just for me, not for anyone else around me. I decided that the people online aren’t scary. They’re awful awful people and I report every single one of them, because they shouldn’t feel like they are allowed to tell me, for example, that ‘I’m an evil whore who slept her way to where I am, and that they will come find me and cut me to pieces if I don’t kill myself first’.”
“That’s awful.” Kathy said, more shocked than Nicki had expected her to be. “They really said that?”
“I was paraphrasing, but pretty much. The worst one i had though was a private message with my address and a picture of a gun.” She continued. “I called the police for that and spent a few days at a friends house. Nothing ever came of it. Point is, I live my life how I want to. I can’t worry about these idiots on the internet, I can’t let them control my life or else they’ve won.”
Kathy nodded sagely and then sighed. “Thank you, Nicki. That’s all we’ve got time for right now, though.” She turned to the camera. “We’ll be back in a few minutes for more live E3 coverage!”
The cameras turned off and everyone relaxed. the producer all but stormed off but Kathy stuck around for a moment. Nicki stood up and Kathy stood with her. “Thanks for that.” she said. “And thanks for poking the bear about priorities.”
“Not a problem.” Nicki smiled.
“I wanted to do a piece on the whole thing, try and get all of the games media involved back when Gamergate really kicked off, but the producers and editors didn’t care. they just wanted ad revenue.” She sighed and shook her head, disappointed. “Are you off back to england this evening?”
“No, we’re going to be here for EE’s presentation this afternoon to promote Blood Ties, then head back tomorrow morning.” Nicki responded, taking her bag from Rich as he stepped out from behind the cameras.
“Oh, okay, cool.” Kathy said. “Are you free for dinner this evening?”
Nicki raised her eyes in surprise. ”Oh.” She paused for a moment to appraise the journalist she’d practically been battling with a moment ago. She was pretty. Shorter than Nicki with long brown hair, tied back into a tail. She wore a fitted blue t-shirt with old sci-fi references cropped into the shape of a star in the centre. “Sure.” She decided. “I finish up at about eight, meet me in the back?”
Kathy’s eyes lit up as she grinned. It was a smiled that Nicki hadn’t seen throughout the interview, genuine excitement. It really lit her up, made her even prettier. “Great.” She said, nodding. “I’ll see you there.”
Nicki smiled and nodded back, turning to Rich and walking out past the cameras to the exit. “How is it that every time we come to an event you get hit on and I don’t?” Rich asked.
“It’s my accent. American girls love the english accent.” She looked over at him, smiling wolfishly, then appraisingly. He was tall, maybe six-two but skinny, not much muscle - Nicki was fairly sure she’d be able to overpower him if she tried - but he was cute. Attractive in a nerdy way. “You’re not unattractive, I’m sure you could get some if you tried. But your american accent doesn’t work as well as my english. At least not in america.”
”Fair point.” Rich sighed, opening the door for her Nicki and following her out. “Remember that our flight's at ten tomorrow morning though. try not to be late.”
“Oh Rich, it’s a first date, just dinner. Nothing’s going to happen. What kind of girl do you think I am?”
“Right.” Rich sighed, rolling his eyes. “You got plans for lunch?”
“You’re hitting on me now?”
“No. I’m trying to decide if i want mexican or italian. You got a preference?” He asked as they stepped down onto the main floor and then turned towards the exit.
“By mexican or italian do you mean Pizza Hut or Taco Bell?” Nicki asked, raising an eyebrow in mocking inquisitiveness. He shrugged. “I could go for some Pizza.”
Rich nodded and dodged around a particularly aggressive booth worker who wanted him to play the latest from their studio. They made their way through the crowd to the main exit and pushed through the doors. Nicki nodded to the nearest security guard as she walked through and moved to lift up her E3 badge, but the security guy waved her through before she could show it.
“Do you know where the Pizza Hut is?” She asked, sucking in a breath of hot california summer air, pulling out her sunglasses and putting them on as she paused in front of the LA convention centre.
“Yeah, it’s just down west Pico Boulevard.” Nicki raised her brows at Rich, to which he rolled his eyes and started walking. “This way.”
“That way!” She announced in response, pointing and starting to walk with Rich.
The Pizza hut was pretty close, less than ten minutes away, but it was busy. They were sat waiting for a good thirty, maybe forty-five minutes before anyone showed them to a seat.
They ate their meal leisurely, chatting about nothing important. Rich had lived nearby when he was younger and he spent some time talking about the area. It was actually interesting how much the place had changed in only a decade.
It was a pleasant meal, but something bothered her throughout. Rich was fine, but she felt like she’d been getting looks from people. Felt like someone had been watching her. She looked around, every so often, but never found anyone looking. There were all sorts of people, business men, workers from the convention, families, a couple of groups of guys that looked like they could have been gamers who had tried to get into E3, but lucked out.
It was in one of these groups, as they were finishing up the meal that Nicki noticed one of them looking at her, and not idly. There was anger in his eyes, not obvious perhaps, but she could very clearly see it there.  She frowned and looked back at Rich. “You ready to go?” She asked.
He looked up from his drink and frowned. “Sure, let me just pay.”
“You want some money?”
Rich shook his head. “It’ll be easier to expense as 1 charge on my card than if we had to split it and share the receipt.”
Nicki nodded and got up. “Okay. I’ll meet you outside. I need a little air.”
She grabbed her bag and swung the strap over her shoulder, pushing her chair back in under the table and walking out.
She wondered as she got outside if, perhaps, she was being paranoid. Maybe the young man just always looked like that and he hadn’t been focussing his anger towards her. Maybe she wasn’t as confident in her ability to ignore the Gamergate stuff as she’d thought and it had gotten to her.
She stepped over to the side of the car park's paving and waited for Rich to get outside.
“Hey! Your that Nicki Game, bitch, right?!” came the voice of aggression that proved her paranoia right.
Nicki’s heart began to race as she turned her head to look at the guy. He was Rich’s height, almost two heads taller than her, with short, crew cut blonde hair, an american football jersey and past knee length shorts.
He looked like he worked out, at least more than Rich did.
Nicki took a breath and turned away from him, but made sure to keep him in sight via reflections in car windows. She’d dealt with idiot twitter posters in real life before. Most of them just want to shout abuse, not many had the balls to actually do anything. Usually if you ignored them they actually did go away.
This guy, though… she wasn’t sure. So she kept him in sight.
“I hear you don’t find the people online scary. That you don’t worry about them?” He said, taking a step forward. She saw him reach for something in the reflection of a window and then light glinted off of it as he moved towards her.
Her eyes widened and she cursed, turning to face him and swinging her bag around and up and in the way of the attackers weapon. There was a loud thunk as his hand slammed down into her bag, and the blade he was wielding buried to the hilt in the canvas and leather. She twisted her bag and pulled, tearing the weapon free of the guy’s grip in his surprise.
She stepped back and grabbed the blade, pulling it free from her bag and pointing it towards him in what looked like - though she very much doubted was - a legitimate knife fighter’s stance.
“Get the fuck away from me!” She shouted, backing up a step. Her hand shook and her heart hammered in her throat. She’d been working out, training in a martial arts studio, sparring with her sensei for years, ever since the threat to her life during Gamergate, and yet when it came down to it her hands still shook, her heart still pounded.
“What you gonna do? stab me?” The guy asked. “You ain’t got the balls.” He grinned, emphasizing the last word. He moved forwards and then stopped, hesitating. He looked past Nicki and then forced himself to step back. He spat and eyed her. “You got lucky this time, bitch.”
He turned, eying the knife for a moment as if he wanted to take it back before fleeing. He seemed to think better of it then walked off the opposite way, forcing himself to let it go.
Nicki slid down to her knees, knife still out in front of her. Her heart racing, her eyes glazing over ever so slightly. As the knife grew heavy in her hands she released it and it fell from her fingers, dropping on the floor, clattering on the concrete.
The blade touched the floor and she threw up.


Chapter 2

“Hey, I just met you, And this is crazy, But here's my number, So call me-” Blared noisily around the hotel room, the music was almost louder than the lyrics the way that Nicki’s phone audio had been set up. The alarm seemed to be coming from everywhere in the room at once, it even felt as if it were changing location every time she turned, trying frantically to find it before it woke Kathy up next to her. She found the phone in the sheets and swiped the alarm off, silencing it, hopefully before waking the cute brunet up.
“Call me maybe?” She asked, groggily. “Really?”
“What?” Nicki asked, defensively. “I like it.” She shrugged, leaning over, “You should go back to sleep.” and kissing the journalist on the forehead. Kathy let out a soft murmur of pleasure and closed her eyes. “I’ve got to catch my flight.” Nicki added. Kathy squirmed a little at that, reached up awkwardly and grabbed the back of her neck, pulling her down. “No.” She mumbled, leaning up to kiss Nicki again.
Nicki let out a quiet laugh and kissed Kathy again, deeply. “I have to.”
She groaned, inaudibly, but relented, releasing Nicki and letting her get out of bed. She dressed quickly, pausing briefly to ask if Kathy knew where her bra was, which she had pointed out after a moment of inaudible grunting.
Soon Nicki was re-dressed in her skinny jeans, blouse and waistcoat. She buckled up her boots and made her way back to the bed. She leaned down, running a hand over the skin of Kathy’s shoulder as she kissed her again. “I had a great time.” She whispered, pulling a business card from her pocket and sliding it into Kathy’s hand as she said, “If you’re ever in london give me a call.”
Kathy clutched the card tight and murmured her assent, falling back to sleep.
Nicki smiled wide and got up to leave, heading straight to the door and grabbing her back from the floor next to it. She paused as she picked it up, eying the knife wound in the side.
Her heart still raced when she thought about it. That was one of the reasons she’d gone back to Kathy’s hotel. She’d liked the journalist, but she hadn’t intended to go back to her room when she’d asked her out but after her ordeal with the knife… she needed to take her mind off it and Kathy was a good distraction. A very good distraction.
It had been a pair of cops that had startled the guy and run him off. They’d taken her details and the knife as evidence, but otherwise there hadn’t really been anything she could do. Rich had taken Nicki’s place in the EE presentation and Nicki had gone back to her room, but every little sound had startled her so she went to find Kathy and they had dinner. Nicki hadn’t felt like leaving the safety of the hotel or the convention centre so they’d ordered room service.
One thing led to another and here she was, staring at her wounded bag. She hadn’t even checked to see if anything important had been stabbed.
Nicki took a deep breath and stepped out into the hall, closing the door behind her. She doubted that she’d ever hear from Kathy again, but if she did she wouldn’t mind.
She sighed, leaning back against the door and looked down at the bag again, opening it and looking through for damage. Mostly it was fine, the book she was reading had a cut across the spine and her phone had a scratch on the cover but mostly it was just the bag that had been assaulted. There was one thing that looked like it had taken the brunt of the attack however, She drew out a folder and looked at the solid knife wound straight through the centre. She sighed and opened it to eye the Blood Ties promotional materials. Every single flier, every folded poster, every note, every page had a knife wound through the middle, and every one with the image of Detective Natalie Blood had a stab wound right through her face.
If Nicki wasn’t still struggling with the fact that it might have been her being stabbed she might have found some morbid amusement in the fact that this was as close as the Gamergate morons would ever get to stopping the influx of strong female characters in lead roles.
Instead she dropped the folder back into her bag, took a deep breath and headed back to her hotel room to grab her things.
Thankfully Kathy and Nicki had been staying in the same hotel, so she didn’t have far to go. She made her way to the lift and pressed the button for the thirteenth floor before stepping back against the opposite wall and leaning back, closing her eyes and letting out a long exhalation.
She loved E3, and the gaming events that she had to do. It was great to see people's excitement at the work she’d been doing, and it was fun to see what other studios were bringing out, but it was exhausting. Even without the life threatening knife attack these events were exhausting.
The lift dinged and the doors slid open. Nicki eyed the number display, but they were still up on the fifteenth floor. A couple of people still wearing their E3 badges around their necks stepped inside and hit the ground floor button. They eyed her for a moment, Nicki’s heart began to race at the possibilities of their gaze, but then they turned their backs to her and she realised that it was more a comment on her appearance than on their desire to do her harm. She took a breath and went back to her quiet contemplation as the lift travelled down the last couple of floors to the thirteenth where she disembarked and walked down the corridor to her room.
The swipe card let her in without any fuss and she stepped inside, dropping her bag on the table next to the door, closing the room up tight behind her. She sighed, looking around at her practically pristine room and proceeded to clean up her scattered clothes, packing them silently into her suitcase, which had been left to one side of the room. She packed the bag with the efficiency of a toddler, stuffing clothes - clean and dirty alike - into the case before putting the gifts she'd bought for her family, friends and for the guys at the office who couldn't come with her on top.
She checked the clock, it was still pretty early. She had an hour before she needed to meet up with Rich and the others so she decided to have a shower. Nicki grabbed a small jewellery case from her suitcase and crossed the room to the bathroom. She stepped inside, turning on the light and closing the door behind her. Nicki set the jewellery case down on the countertop and opened it. The case had several different compartments, each one holding something different. One for nose rings, one for eyebrow rings, one for earrings and one that held a single simple silver chain with a gold ring hanging from it. The ring was thin and engraved to have vines weaving around the wearers finger, leading up to a golden flower with a small sapphire in the centre, which was the centrepiece of the ring. She sighed for a moment as she lifted it up to look at it. A rush of sadness, fear, and the unimaginable emptiness that only those who have truly known the loss of love can comprehend welled up inside Nicki. She didn't fight it. She never fought it. She lifted the ring up to her lips and kissed the sapphire before returning it carefully, lovingly to the case.
She started taking off her piercings and placing them into case with the others. Both ears, her nose, her brow. She didn't need to remove them to have a shower but it made things ever so slightly easier for her so she did it. She turned the shower on and waited for it to heat up to the point that it's heat could cauterise a wound, and stripped out of her clothes, dumping them onto the closed toilet and hopping into the hot cleansing waters.
She stood there naked in the shower for an age, replaying the events of the previous day over and over in her mind, imagining what she could have done differently.
What she should have done differently.
Events played out through her mind, different every time. One version where she grabbed the guys wrist and flipped him over her shoulder. One version where she took the knife and fought back. One version where she hadn’t been quick enough with her bag and she’d been stabbed. Many versions. Many more.
She stood there in the heat, just letting it wash over her, cleaning the makeup from her face, washing her tears away as no matter what nothing she thought up made her feel better. Inside, deep down she knew that she’d done the right thing, even that she’d done incredibly well do block the knife and get it away from him.
Really; who sees a knife coming and gets the knife away from someone twice their body mass? She was pretty incredible, really and after only two years of martial arts training.
But she couldn’t shake that feeling. That fear and dread. That helplessness she’d felt when she’d got the knife from him and he hadn’t cared. He’d been right, she wouldn’t have been able to use it. But that didn’t make her bad. it made her a better person. Right?
She shook her head. If those cops hadn’t turned up when they did she’d have been a better dead person most likely. Still; she’d done everything she could. It was a scary moment, but it worked out okay. She took a deep breath of steam through the nose and started to apply complimentary soap to herself, scrubbing with a sponge she’d brought from home.
When Nicki finally climbed out of the shower forty-five minutes had gone by and she was beginning to get pruny. She dried off quickly and wrapped the towel around her, then wrapped her hair up in a second towel and tied it atop her head like only women can.
She left the bathroom and retrieved what she thought might still be clean clothes from her suitcase, pulling the underwear - a pair of black panties and a plain red bra if you really, really, really needed to know - on under the towel to protect her modesty from the people who weren’t there. She let the towel drop from around her and within a couple of seconds pulled on a combination of black tights and denim shorts. You could just about see her Harley Quinn tattoo through the tights, but she was perfectly okay with that.
Nicki picked out a black t-shirt with a picture of one of her favorite mystery novel characters riding a dinosaur on it and pulled it on over her head. Nicki went to close the suitcase up, but remembered the clothes and jewellery case in the bathroom. Then remembered her makeup and sighed. She only have ten minutes left, she’d have to forgo the makeup, which she was most certainly displeased about.
She went back into the bathroom, grabbing the towel from the floor and throwing it into the bathtub - as per the hotels instructions - as she reached the jewellery. Nicki reapplied her rings, swapping out a stud on each ear for a pair of little silver rings. She also swapped the a aquamarine nose ring out for a ruby one - well, not really ruby, it was simply too inexpensive to have actual ruby in, but it still looked nice.
She snapped the jewellery case closed then looked up at her towel covered head in the mirror. She reached up and pulled the towel off, then spent a few moments rubbing it dry with her towel. It didn’t get all the way there and she had to just live with it, flicking her hair back over her head to rest damply down her back. She threw the towel in the bath with the other one and grabbed her clothes from on top of the toilet.
Nicki left the bathroom and dumped the rest of her clothes and her jewellery case into the suitcase. She had to sit on it to get it all to fit, but she did manage to close it with a whole minute left to check the room over again to appease her paranoia, get out, close the room up, carry all her things down to the lobby, check out and meet up with the others from Black Serenity.
She sighed and gave the room a quick glance, grabbed her bag and keycard from the table by the door, hefted her suitcase from the bed and left the room.
As she closed the room up she eyed her bag and it’s knife wound again, sighing. She liked the bag. It had been a Sword Art Online canvas and leather satchel that she’d been given for christmas by her mother. Now it was pretty much ruined.
She could stitch it up and make it usable - hell it was still usable with the knife wound in - but she’d never be able to forget about the knife attack while it was still in her life. If she’d had time, since calming down, to go and get a new bag she would have.
As Nicki walked down the corridor to the lift her burner phone - she liked to call it that, it was just one of the prepaid mobile phones that Black Serenity had bought for everyone on the trip when they’d arrived, but she spent a lot of time watching american television, so it was a burner phone to her - started to ring. She reached into her back and pulled it out, flipping it open - yes, it was a flip phone, how freaking cool is that? - as she did so. Rich’s burner phone was calling hers. She answered with one hand and released her suitcase to press the lift call button with the other. “Hey, I’m on my way down now.”
“Alright. We’re in the lobby,” Rich said, he hesitated for a moment then said; “you should know that it got out that you were attacked yesterday so there are some gamergate reporters outside.”
Nicki groaned. “Really? For fuck’s sake...” She sighed, staring up at the ceiling in annoyance. She let out a breath as the elevator opened and looked into it. It was empty. She rolled her suitcase in. “Alright. I’ll meet you down there. Bye.” She turned off the phone as Rich said bye and hit the ground floor’s button with her phone’s arial.
The doors closed and descended quickly down to the lobby. Nobody got in and there was nobody waiting at the bottom, so she walked out and made her way quickly to the check-out desk. The clerk on duty painlessly helped Nicki to check out of the hotel and she went to meet with her coworkers. Other than Rich there were three others, two guys from QA - John and Dave - and the senior producer - Melina. The three of them were waiting for her but Rich was unaccounted for.
"Hey." Nicki said as she reached them.
“Hey,” Dave and John said together. Dave was tall, about six four, even taller than Rich and a giant compared to Nicki. He had light chocolate coloured skin, closely cut her and a very short goatee. Very attractive and he clearly worked out.
John had a mild tan and was still tall and well toned from sports, but at only six foot he was nothing compared to Dave, though he still towered over Nicki. He had mid length brown hair - or what was considered mid length for a guy - and a scruffy but attractive beard. He was also attractive, they both ruined the lazy, fatty QA tester stereotype, it was quite refreshing.
"Hey, you check out alright?" Melina asked, hiking her bag up a little higher on her shoulder. Even Melina was taller than Nicki by about three inches. She had curly black hair and slightly hispanic features. She wasn’t nearly as pretty as the guys, and she’d gained a substantial amount of weight since the beginning of the project - that’s what happens when the company buys take out every time you do overtime - but in the right light, maybe? Nicki didn’t really think about it. She’d had relationships with coworkers before and they never ended well, so now she kept it strictly business and friendship.
Also Melina wasn’t gay, so that was a pretty good reason not to enter into a relationship with her.
Nicki nodded. "Good, we'll get out of here as soon as Rich gets back."
"Where is he?" Nicki asked, settling her suitcase and crossing her arms to wait.
Melina shrugged.
"He said something about getting you a disguise." Dave responded. "How you doing?"
Nicki shrugged this time and stared out the front of the hotel, there were only about 3 people that she could actively pick out as reporters, but that was 4 more than she wanted to deal with. "I'm fine." She told him.
"Sure you are." Rich agreed, appearing behind them. He held a plastic bag with the hotel gift shops logo on. "Here," he offered Nicki the bag as he reacher her.
She frowned questioningly but took the bag, looking inside. She reached in and pulled out the large cotton thing that was inside. she screwed up the bag and pocketed it as she unfurled what was apparently a large grey hoodie with the hotel logo and name on the front. Very much not her style.
She let out a short breath of laughter and looked up at Rich. “Thanks,” she said, pulling it on. It came down to just above her knees, and the sleeves extended past her hands. She reached up and pulled the hood on, it all but engulfed her head. She looked up at Rich and eyed him, raising a brow daring him to laugh. She didn’t bother turning the look on Dave or John, if they were going to laugh there was nothing she could do to stop it. “I look ridiculous don’t I?”
Rich grinned. “A little like a ten year old wearing her dad’s hoodie, but it’ll get you past the journalists and to the car, come on.”
Nicki sighed and followed the others out, sticking close to Dave and John, subconsciously thinking of them as her muscle in case any of the journalists saw through Rich’s cunning ploy.
Sarcasm aside, the plan worked and they got into their cab without a fuss. She left Rich to sort out her bag and slipped into the back of the cab. Soon they were all piled in and heading back to the airport.
They got through customs without any hassle, though Dave had been forced to give up a snow globe he’d bought and placed in his hand luggage. Aparently a lot of people forget that there’s more than 20 millileters  of water in a snow globe and they get confiscated a lot. Aparently there’s a collection in the airport staff room, and Dave’s one was one of the nicer ones.
Dave didn’t stop complaining about it all the way onto the flight. Thankfully he was sat at the other end of the row of seats and Melina was the only one who had to listen to the tirade, at least when it was quiet.
“It’ll be good to get back and relax.” Nicki said after the flight finally took off.
“Relax?” John scoffed from one side of her. “you get to relax when the game comes out? we still have day one updates and bug fix updates to test and get out there.”
“I have to take control of the forums and the social pushes.” Rich agreed. “You’re the only one who gets to relax. Artists have art bugs, coders have code bugs, QA have all bugs, Community has a community to manage and bugs to pass along and Melina has to run it all and liaise with Marketing. You hear what they’re doing to advertise the game?” He added, looking over to Nicki and John.
“No,” John replied, frowning. “Not just the usual adverts, billboards, social pushes...?”
Rich shook his head. “It’s supposed to be a surprise, but they got all excited and told community so we could get hype going.” He explained. He smiled and then laid hsi head back, not sayign anything else.
“Oh come on,” Nicki said, rolling her eyes and hitting him in the arm. “what is it?”
Rich raised his eyebrows and looked to Nicki. “Hm? Oh right. Well they realised that we had a unique oportunity, since the game is set in London and the majority of the murder victims are found staged in well known places they’re planning to put up advertising in those places, but not just any adverts, statues.” John raised an eyebrow, as if he needed more information but Nicki was starting to get it. “So on Tuesday they’re putting them up, just in the first three murder locations in the game. Kings cross station, London Victoria and trafalgar square. On tuesday they will be surrounded by police tape and police privacy barriers to obscure them. Then on wednesday they’re going to be taking down the privacy barriers to reveal a model of the victim from that location. Then thursday they’ll add in life size models of Natalie Blood investigating the scene.”
“That sounds pretty cool.” John admitted. “But, the victims look pretty gruesome when they’re found in the game, won't they be too… eighteen certificate for a place like that? so many people of all ages coming in and out.”
Rich nodded. “They’ve toned it down a lot for the statues. its not really about the victims anyway. It’s about Detective Natalie Blood. She’ll look right.”
Nicki nodded. “So they’re all made already? can I see them?” She asked.
“Sure.” Rich responded. “Go to Kings Cross, London Victoria or Trafalgar square Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.”
Nicki rolled her eyes. “Fine.” She said. “But you suck.”
“Agreed.” John said, turning away and resting back in his chair.
Rich grinned, impishly. “Duly noted.”

 And thats the first two chapters. It gets more interesting I promise. I'm currently only on chapter 4, but I like the idea so far and I'm having fun with the characters.

Cards against Tubage
- James

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